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Body Movement and Balance

This sense allows us to detect where our head is in relation to space. The receptors are in our inner ear. It tells us whether we are moving, how quickly and in which direction. It contributes to our sense of balance, head control and coordination.

The vestibular system is very important in influencing our nervous system and arousal. Fast movements tend to wake us up, while slow rhythmic movements put us to sleep. Straight up and down or backwards and forwards movements such as jumping on a trampoline tend to be organising, while rotary movements such as spinning or turning in a circle can have an alerting and sometimes disorganising effect.

The vestibular system makes working against gravity and moving through space easy, such as:

  • bending over to pick up a rucksack
  • travelling in the car
  • walking to the classroom
  • playing sports

More subtle vestibular activities include:

  • maintaining seated posture during class
  • staying appropriately alert and attentive
  • looking up at the board and back down to write notes
  • using one’s body in an organised, coordinated way.

There’s a wide variation in how much children like movement. Some children prefer sedentary activities such as reading a book for long periods of time, whereas other children prefer to engage in more physical activities.

To determine if there may be a movement problem, think whether your child:

  • Is constantly on the move (can’t sit still, fidgets excessively)
  • Dislikes/or craves activities that require his feet to leave the ground or challenge his balance
  • Seems to have a stiff head, neck, and shoulders- or always holds his head straight
  • Hesitates or is afraid of climbing or descending stairs and playground equipment
  • Seems overly fearful-or fearless- or movement, heights, or falling
  • Gets dizzy very easily-or never gets dizzy
  • Becomes easily carsick or falls asleep immediately in a car (or bus, boat, train, aeroplane)


  • A need to rock, swing or spin to get some sensory input.

You could encourage activities that help to develop the vestibular system. This could include using rocking horses, swings, roundabouts, seesaws, catching a ball or practising walking smoothly up steps or curbs.


  • Difficulties with activities like sport, where we need to control our movements
  • Difficulties stopping quickly or during an activity
  • Car sickness.
  • Difficulties with activities where the head is not upright or feet are off the ground.

You could help by breaking down activities into small, more easily manageable steps and using visual cues such as a finish line.

Some activity ideas

  • Swinging activities e.g. drop beanbags held by the feet into a target
  • Sliding activities- create a safe crash area at the bottom for the child to land in
  • Dance
  • Jump on a trampoline (make sure the child doesn’t become over stimulated)
  • Use a rocking horse/ chair
  • Play on toys that spin
  • Roll or bounce on gym ball

Implications for learning– A child with difficulties processing vestibular information usually demonstrates multiple difficulties with movement and balance, as well as postural control. This child may frequently move with poor control may seem fatigued or weak or may appear clumsy and uncoordinated.

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